The human body is an amazing machine. Our bodies are beautiful, and a healthy body is a sign of both physical and mental fortitude. Chest exercises are some of the best things you can do for your body. Whether you want to burn fat, bulk up, perk up your breasts, or simply tone your body in time for the beach, you can't go wrong with exercising your chest. Because the pectoralis major is one of the biggest muscles in your body, strengthening it will not only increase the number of carbs your body burns but will also improve your overall health.
However, all too often I see people making the same mistakes when working their chest. I suspect that they've seen those perfectly-sculpted bodybuilders and mistakenly believe that wailing on their chest with a myriad of exercises will give them the same results. I see people do two reps of deadlifts using the wrong form, then move on to a peck deck machine, and then hit the dumbbells, and then attempt to bench press. They forget that steroids are a bodybuilder's secret elixir.
Thankfully you don't need performance-enhancing drugs to tone your chest and drop some weight. Instead, you only need a couple of chest exercises, and you can do them three times a week.
A Quick Overview of Chest Exercises
The pectoralis major and minor make up the group of muscles in your chest. These muscles hold your arms and shoulders together and provide the power to move your arms, rotate your shoulders, and lift things. Because they're such a large muscle group, bulking them will affect your entire body. In fact, when you start doing chest exercises, you'll see results faster than with any other muscle group. Also, because muscles take more energy to sustain, they burn more calories. So the stronger your chest gets, the more weight you'll start to drop. Whether you have breasts or man-boobs, proper chest exercises will start to pay dividends within days.
Who should do chest exercises?
Everyone should do chest exercises. Unless you've had surgery or heart problems, a well-planned chest exercise routine is essential to overall health. But the problem a lot of people have is trying to figure which chest exercises to do, which is why so many try to do all of them. Instead, you need to figure out which exercises are best for your body type, gender, and goals. For instance, if you're an overweight man who wants to look good with his shirt off, then you can skip the standing cable pulls and the stability balls. Hit the dumbbells and include some squats in your routine.
What can they do for me?
As we mentioned earlier, chest exercises can work wonders for your overall health. Even if your goal isn't to lose weight, chest exercises can help your spine by providing firmer support. And don't forget what overall health does for your heart and nervous system.
Of course, there are the noticeable visual effects of a good chest routine. The right chest exercises for women will lift breasts, tuck in the area around the upper abdomen, and tighten up your shoulders and back. For men, the flab around the pecs will disappear, and your shoulders and chest will become harder and more pronounced.
How often should I do them?
You should only hit your chest a few times a week. In fact, it's better to give your muscles a day of rest in between chest exercises. Every time you exercise, you tear the muscle. Your body fills in the tears with new muscle, which is what makes it larger and stronger. That day of rest lets your body rebuild your chest, so if you exercise this area every other day, and give yourself an extra off on the weekend, you'll see results.
Where can I do them?
Did you know that Bruce Lee never lifted a weight? He sculpted that body of pure muscle using only his own body weight. That means that you, too, can get a strong, beautiful chest simply by doing some pushups, pull-ups, and wall presses. Of course, if you want faster results, then the gym is the best place to go. For those who want to shed some chest fat and firm up that area, you'll need the equipment only a gym offers.
How do I do them?
While each chest exercise has its own methodology, a good rule of thumb is that you should break your routine into sets. When you start, work on doing 2 sets of 10 reps each. Once your body is used to this, you can increase it. We find that keeping each set to just 10 reps is easy and efficient, and you can always increase the number of sets.
Then, you'll want to choose your weight level. For machines and free weights, start with something easy. Choosing 10 to 20 pounds for weights, and 50 pounds for machines should be more than enough. However, this varies per person, and you should choose a weight with which you can perform your sets in good form, but with a challenge.
If, after doing two sets of 10 reps at 20 pounds, you don't feel tired and your muscles aren't burning, increase the weight. Once you find a weight where you're getting some good resistance, this is where you'll start. Every week, increase your set by one, so you're doing 3 sets of 10 reps in week 2, and 4 sets by week 3. Then, increase your weight in week 4, keeping at 4 sets of 10 reps. After a few weeks, you'll feel like this weight is too easy. That's when you know it's time to increase it again. And again. And again, always keeping at four sets.
How We Reviewed
The first thing you should know is that when it comes to chest exercises, you're in good hands with yours truly. I've been lifting, pulling, and exercising for many years. I've taken classes, worked with trainers, and researched all I can in that time. I'm a regular at the gym, and it's one of my favorite places to hang out. A good friend of mine is a semi-pro bodybuilder, and although I look nothing like him, I'm no slouch, either. So, you can trust me when I say that I know what I'm doing.
But to sweeten the deal, we've gone and backed up our claims with research using some of the best authorities on the internet. We love sites like Live Strong, Men's Health, and Health Line.
A word of warning
One thing we need to get out of the way is that you should never undertake any health routine, whether it be a diet or exercise, without first ensuring you're able to. If you've never had any significant illnesses, injuries, or surgeries, you should be okay. However, if you have, then you should first consult with a doctor. That is especially true for chest exercises because they'll impact your entire body. Also, if you're pregnant, then you should avoid doing chest exercises until after the baby is born, and again, only with your doctor's permission.
The 6 Best Chest Exercises for Different People
Because everyone is different, and we all have different bodies, it doesn't make sense for all of us to do the same exercises. So we've rounded out the best chest exercises for different needs. You can choose one or two (or three, if you're ambitious) and incorporate those into a fully-rounded chest exercise routine. We've included one exercise each for women and men. You should include this in any routine, and then add others as needed.
1. For women: standing cable chest press
There's a reason men and women do different chest exercises. Physiologically, women have different exercise needs than men. If you want to lift your breasts and avoid tearing any of their fatty tissue, then you shouldn't wail on the peck deck machine in the same manner as a man. Instead, you want to strengthen the pectoralis major using standing cable chest presses.
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To do these, you'll want to adjust the cable rack so that the pulleys are at shoulder height. Then, take a cable handle in each hand and place yourself in the center of the machine. Brace your stomach to support your back and tighten your arms while taking one step forward. As you do so, extend your arms straight outward, pulling the cables.
2. For men: peck deck
Men store more of their weight in their upper body than women, and this puts more pressure on the chest and back. That means that, along with a fat stomach, a flabby chest can be a serious health issue for men. That's why all men should start every workout by building their pectoralis muscles.
- Fly machine delivers unilateral and bilateral movement for chest, back, and shoulder conditioning
- Dual overhead variable resistance cams for independent arm movement
- DuraFirm padding offers exceptional comfort and durability during intense lifting
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- Measures 32 by 28 by 65 inches (L x W x H) and weighs 91 pounds
The peck deck machine is perfect for this.
Start by adjusting the seat height so that the handlebars are about shoulder height. Then, grasping the bars in each hand, pull them in towards each other while keeping your arms locked. Note that if you have had shoulder injuries in the past, you shouldn't do this exercise and can replace it with a bench press instead.
3. To lose weight: incline dumbbell press
The incline dumbbell press is awesome for losing weight. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, because this press works the same muscles. Doing a few sets of incline dumbbell presses every few days will shred fat from around your chest, shoulders, and under your armpits while firming up muscle really fast.
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The right way to do these is to take two 10 or 20-pound dumbbells, 1 in each hand, and lay on a gently-inclined workout bench. Keep your legs spread apart on either side of the bench with your feet flat on the floor. You'll need that to balance. Then, slowly push the weights above you and over your chest until your arms fully extend, and then pull them back down to your shoulders. Do that over and over until you've completed your sets.
4. To firm up breasts: stability ball chest press
For women who want to firm up their breasts, nothing beats a stability ball chest press. What's great about this exercise is that it doesn't wipe you out like some of the others on this list. Also, you can do it anywhere with some relatively inexpensive equipment. This will work the muscles that lay underneath your breasts, as well as your core and shoulders all at once. The result after only a few weeks is a tightened muscle group all around your breasts, providing greater support and a perkier look.
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You'll need a stability ball and a couple of 5 to 10-pound weights. Position the ball in the middle of your upper back, keeping your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips with your thighs, so your core is aligned, like a wooden plank. Then, with a weight in each hand, lift them straight up until your arm extends fully. Hold for a second or two, and then pull them down to a few inches above your shoulder. Repeat.
5. To tone up: push-ups
Push-ups are great for toning and sculpting your upper body. Remember how Bruce Lee never lifted weights? Push-ups helped him keep that sculpted body. However, push-ups are only good as one part of a complete routine. Push-ups alone won't help you to lose weight or a flabby chest. Instead, they're great for maintaining what you do gain, and for general endurance, flexibility, and all-around good health.
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Also, if you're having trouble doing complete push-ups because you're too heavy, then try doing them with your knees on the floor until you're strong enough to do full push-ups.
To do a push-up the right way, start in the "up" position. Keep your hands flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Grind your toes into the floor, and then lock your body in a plank position. You want your head, back, and legs to align with each other. Try to keep your butt down, too. Lower your body using your arms and elbows only. Nothing else on your body should move. Bring your body down until your chest touches the floor, and then left yourself up again. Make sure your butt doesn't jut out or dip down.
6. To bulk up: bench press
If you're going for a bulked-up, muscular look, we can't recommend the bench press enough. It's one of the most effective exercises for blasting your chest muscles into high orbit. Of course, if you want a slimmed-down, toned look, stay away from the bench press. We don't recommend this for people just starting on a weight-loss journey, but once you've dumped the flabby chest, hit the bench!
Another thing to note is that the bench press is where most gym injuries occur, so make sure that you have either a spotter with you or safety bars on either side of the bench. Keep the safety bars about three inches higher than the tip of your nose when laying flat. Also, don't overload your weights. Remember that the steel bar alone weighs 40 pounds. If you're just starting, add a couple of 5 or 10-pound discs, and that's it.
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Lay flat on the bench, in as relaxed a manner as possible. Keep your legs apart and your feet flat on the floor. Put your arms straight out at either side of your body, and then bend your elbows, so your hands touch the bar. That's your perfect grip. Grasp the bar with both hands, and then hoist it off the rack. Lift it straight up and hold it for a second or two, and then bring it down to hover a few inches above your body (or the safety bars). Lift again and repeat.
Create Your Routine
These six chest exercises are all you need to get your upper body in good shape. Build a routine around them, and then do them every other day, three times a week. Here's how you build your routine with these chest exercises:
- Start with the best exercise for your gender (women or men)
- Choose what you want to accomplish: lose weight, firm up breasts, etc. Add that exercise to your routine
- End with either push-ups for toning, or bench presses for bulking
With this simple formula and these awesome chest exercises, you're ready to hit the gym with confidence. Within weeks you'll notice gains, and a year from now you'll have the chest of a Greek deity.
What are your favorite chest exercises? Let us know in the comments below!